Lost and Found

“Hey! Keyser Soze!”

The guest at the other end of the bar shouts towards me.  He’s referencing a conversation the entire bar was having earlier that led into someone trying to describe Gabriel Byrne, and ultimately referenced the film, The Usual Suspects.  I’m a huge fan of Kevin Spacey, so naturally I jumped into the fray.

“What are you working on?” He calls out.

This happens often to me: Guests are curious about what I’m doing with a notebook and a name tag – it’s a great opener for striking up a conversation.  It leads to a description of the Pfister Narrator position, handing out of business cards, and so on and so forth.  The guest, a young man here on business, lights up and becomes quite animated when introducing his co-workers (nearly all of whom, it seems, he’s roomed with for one conference or another and subsequently has plenty of laugh-out-loud stories to share).  They come here regularly and he’s stayed here seven times.  “This is the best hotel in Milwaukee.  I love it here.  I just wish you guys had a pool.”

It’s my turn to light up.  “You don’t know about the pool?  It’s on the 23rd floor, right by Blu, I wrote a blog post about it!”

We apologize to the co-workers for our abrupt departure, and head off to the elevator to check it out.  He’s so excited to find the pool, he doesn’t have time to put down his drink.

I know I was just as excited to find something at the Pfister: a coat I’d previously lost.  I had recently stayed a night, and left my favorite spring coat in the room.  When I called the next morning, I described the item to someone at the front desk, who cross-checked with security and provided me with a number I could use to retrieve my item.  The number started with an ‘F’ for ‘Found.’  While it took me a few weeks to remember to pick it up, when I did, it was quick and easy.  It arrived, folded neatly in a square, wrapped in a plastic dry-cleaning bag.  If only all lost and founds were this organized!

A regular guest (the kind who walks up to the bar and gets greeted by the bartender by name, with great enthusiasm, and remembrance of a preferred beverage) told me this story about a watch.  After a brief stay at the Pfister, he found himself in Texas before he realized his gold watch was missing. After careful consideration, he called the hotel, figuring it was the only place he would have left it.  Sure enough, they had found it in his room.  A few weeks later, he picked it back up.  The strange thing was that before it was “lost and found” it was always stopping and starting at random, but ever since he retrieved it, it has worked perfectly!

Of course, the hotel isn’t only good at finding physical items that have been lost, but are also adept at helping lost people find their way to wherever it is they are trying to head.  Earlier in the evening, two young men came striding in through the doors, beelining for the lobby bar.

“Is there a place nearby called Flannigan’s?”

Joni, the super friendly bartender chirps, “Oh?  You mean Flannery’s?” and promptly offers swift directions.  The young man, in jeans, untucked button-down shirt and backwards baseball cap asks “Is it, like, casual?  Am I okay dressed like this?”  She assures him he’s fine and he and his friend jet off to hit up this Cathedral Square favorite.

As Isaac Asimov once said, “The true delight is in the finding out rather than in the knowing.”  And, what true delight there is in finding things at the Pfister, whether or not you knew you were looking for them.

Little Things

From the brass knocker that indicates a guest’s room number to the matching brass plate on the electronics charging box inside; from the intricate patterns of the stair railings to the wallpaper stripes; from the ever-changing flowers in the front hall to the roses on the carpet – the tiniest of details come together to create the Pfister experience.  Most people come inside and are so mesmerized by how it all comes together in its final tableau, nurse the details are easily overlooked.

For example, the grand elegance of the lobby with its varieties of Italian marble, pink and gold coloring, wide-open space ringed by impressive pillars, and lofty ceilings that rise over two stories above to a colorful mural, store may be one fabulous picture.  However, stop to take a closer peek: See how the carpet at the main entrance is blue and gold, but there’s a rug over it that has veins of aquamarine, cranberry and mauve outlining the dueling blues – all populated with verdant patterns of decorative botanic designs that mimic those ringing the pillars and wrought into the railings along the staircases.  See how the gold is then subtly trimming the edges and knobs on the two black wood tables that proudly display petals and blooms of all kinds and colors.

Certainly the Victorian art that adorns the public spaces is noticeable, discount but it’s good to stop and examine them more closely, catching the way a painter labored over the softness on the chiffon sleeves that cloud the arms of the angelic model in Adolphe Piot’s The Rose.  Or, catch how much a cherub looks like one of the Pfister employees*.

When walking the halls where the rooms are located, simply look up.  While you may take note of the lighting’s luminescence, have you considered the luminaries themselves?  These brass fixtures with white shades also mirror the rounded, petaled designs strewn throughout the entire hotel’s décor.  However subtle and simple, their classic appearance hearkens to that lamp you remember from your grandmother or great-grandmother’s parlor room, the electrical wires woven through golden chain links.

Each guest room door (even they vary in style—look for some with oval, some with rectangular cutouts, some with trim and some without) features a golden knocker with the room number etched into the brass in a deep, contrasting black.

Take the elevator to Blu.  Notice the numbers?  What’s missing?  Ah, yes, the superstitious “thirteen.”  I, of course, always think that just makes floor 14 really 13, and so on up to the top until the 23rd floor really becomes only the 22nd.  But, I do love it when a building skips the thirteenth floor when numbering their levels.  It creates a bit of a literary history note, some flair that creates a connection to the time when the building was erected.

Of course, the carpet outside of Blu is…well, BLUE!  An exquisite navy blue is primary, overlaid by more contemporary floral patterns of the palest shades, bordering on cream or white.  Braided throughout are curlicues – as if an artist patiently drew their finger in linking circular patterns while the carpet was being dyed, and this solo-digit trail was all that was left behind.

Speaking of the elevators, have you seen the star-shaped compass design that is inlaid into the marble outside the 7th floor doors?  With forest green, pale mauve, and white points set on a cookies-n-cream ice cream floor, it stands out while being stood upon.

And, standing out is precisely the purpose of every one of these minute details.  Each tiny component of aesthete sets out to complement its neighbor in a way that renders each nearly invisible.  Take the time to stop, look closer, and you might be even more astounded by what you find.

*Which painting and which employee isn’t a secret, but you’ll have to come visit and ask around to find out!

Beethoven Meets Gershwin Meets Albrechtson


Dan Albrechtson is slight of stature, stooped as though permanently shaped to sit on a bench and let his shoulders lead dancing fingers across a black and white striped musical floor.  A retired math and computer teacher, his spectacles echo the days of computer programming gone by: large, square rims made of thick wire, but his tux and Scots-plaid vest are high class.

“Do you know what request I receive the most?”  He takes a sip of his coffee (“one sugar, one splenda, got to make it equal,” Dan quips) as he sits next to me on his break.  I shake my head, no.

“Frank Sinatra.”

I love Ol’ Blue Eyes’ music and when I express this, he brightens, “I saw Frank Sinatra in 1982 at the U.S. Cellular Arena, though of course it wasn’t called that, then.”

Chatting about crooners of music past, Dan tells me about his recent trip to San Francisco where he saw Tony Bennett perform for a packed house at Davies Symphony Hall.  I tell him I’m from San Francisco and ask him where he stays.

“Usually the Fairmont, but this time my wife and I were at the Mark Hopkins.”

Dan tells me about how he plays at the Top of the Mark whenever he visits the City by the Bay, where he goes at least twice a year. His very first visit to San Francisco was in 1949 with his family.  He was seven at the time.

“The piano at the Mark is exquisite.  It’s got some of the best sound of any piano I’ve played.  Did you know the one here,” he gestures to the Pfister’s lobby piano, “is at least 90 years old?  The brass plate on it says ‘Apollo’ and Apollo was sold to Wurlitzer in 1929.  Pianos show wear from their players and this one must have been played by a woman with long nails at some point in its history.  Come see.”

We go to the piano, he lifts the lid.  The first thing I notice are the burn marks on the keys at the far right: cigarettes, Dan tells me.  He points to the center of the piano – just above the keys are long scratches in the wood, gouges that span several inches, all layered on top of each other.

“How did that even happen?” I ask Dan.

He demonstrates, playing the start of a tune, leading to the right, then, with a flourish, brings his right hand back to meet the left.  As his hands float above the center keys on their journey leftwards, his fingers nearly graze the center wood, exactly where the gouges are.

“See that? When someone is playing, if they have long nails, the tips will scratch the paint or finish right off the wood here.”

He trails his fingers along a few keys.  “Do you know what the second most common request I get is?  Something from Phantom,” and he launches into a medley of his own design, replete with his own original arrangements of transitions between the title track, Music of the Night and All I Ask of You, through Masquerade and finishing up with Music of the Night again.  It’s beautiful.

A story follows, one about Beethoven and Gershwin meeting in heaven.  Beethoven challenges Gershwin to a piano duel.  Gershwin agrees, on the condition that they take turns at the same piano and each begin and end their turn with the same note: F# – Beethoven agrees.  It’s on.  Dan begins.  It’s Moonlight Sonata, which eventually drifts into Summertime, all the while Dan continues to narrate the story of these two great composers sharing time at some perfect piano in the sky.  Another trade-off, and then a third, with the triumphant Fifth Symphony leading into the finish: the final chords of It Ain’t Necessarily So.

He finishes, takes a sip of coffee.  “Pick any three notes.”  Dan sits back and waits, a slight grin tugging up one corner of his mouth.  “Original compositions are like writing.  You just need the right words to get started, and the rest will follow.  So, pick three notes,” he gestures to the center keys, “somewhere in here, black or white.”  I tentatively reach over and press three keys.

Dan pauses, thinking, taps the keys for confirmation, says “Alright, then” and begins to play.  What comes out is sounds like it could be the theme song from some delightfully charming, long-running, BBC romantic comedy sitcom like Last of the Summer Wine.  I can’t stop smiling, the tune is irresistible.  And it’s all mine.

Piano for Three: Sunday Snapshots

Lobby Lounge

Where: Parking garage
When: 7:30pm
What: Power-washing of the parking ramps. Motors running, water streaming, hoses draped across the cement. Cars with license plates from Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee all sport bike racks. Perhaps for people taking part in the UPAF Ride for the Arts which went on over the weekend?

Where: Elevator bank in hallway
When: 7:35pm
What: The soft hum of the A/C reflects the summer heat outside as fans circulate cooled air.

Where: Café at the Pfister
When: 7:36pm
What: A man in a khaki shirt moves rhythmically through the space, circling with his mop, shoulders flexing, reaching and swirling as he cleans the floor.

Where: Lobby
When: 8:03pm
What: Automatic doors at the main entrance open with a squeaking “swoosh” and a man on a mission brusquely enters, sweeping past tall vases cradling Birds of Paradise flowers. He’s holding aloft a white box topped with a brown paper bag: a guest’s order from a local eating establishment, arriving by delivery, the grease starting to spot the corners of the bag.  The phone rings.  Someone needs another bathrobe.

Where: Lobby Lounge
When: 8:36pm
What: The crinkle of paper and soft breath of pages being turned as a man sits in one of the plush chairs, reading the latest issue of TIME magazine. Ellie & Jeff quietly confer over the drinks menu, shoulders touching as they examine it where it sits on the end of the bar. Another guest stands with arms crossed in front of the corner armoir, open to reveal a previously hidden television, tuned to the (muted) NBA Finals.

Where: Business Center
When: 8:50pm
What: Minesweeper working fine.

Where: Lobby
When: 9:02pm
What: A guest returns from dinner. At the front desk, Stephanie, a gently gregarious soul, cheerfully inquires about how his meal was at Elsa’s on the Park. He has nothing but glowing enthusiasm and asks her for another recommendation for when he’s free another night later this week.

Where: Lobby Lounge
When: 9:15pm
What: Piano music begins again: strains of a soft waltz drift through the room, bouncing off the marble floors and expanding upwards into the arched ceiling. A bar stool squeaks.

Where: Lobby
When: 9:16-9:23pm
What: The phone rings. Two arrivals check in within quick succession – one right after the other. Footsteps on carpet, followed by wheels of luggage trailed behind. Guest #1 noses around on a tablet-style device, waiting while Stephanie finishes up a phone call. The clattering of keys follows as she swiftly checks him in, giving directions on where to find the pool.  Guest #2 is dressed similarly: casual, comfortable traveling clothes. She, too, is checked in within moments.

Where: Lobby Lounge
When: 9:26pm
What: The automatic doors swoosh, squeak. A gentleman in a polo shirt and baseball cap rushes in, practically charging to a table that stands adjacent to the rear of the piano. He grabs a chair and sets it directly facing the enter of the instrument, his back to the lobby. Elly is by his side within seconds, confirming his order (which she already knew: he’s definitely a regular). He teases her. Jeff lobs a few remarks their direction, punctuated with laughter. He removes his cap, offers some cash to the piano player’s tip jar and murmurs some requests. The piano player’s head nods an affirmation, never ceasing the dancing of his fingers across the keys.

Where: Lobby bar
When: 9:42pm
What: Recently checked-in guest comes down to the bar and takes a seat, spreading her newspaper out before her, open to the crossword puzzle, her pen tapping in hand, in time to the music.  The gentleman who sat by the piano has joined everyone else at the bar.  The piano shifts from a lilting, soothing melody to something more bright, bubbly and lively – mirroring the increase in chatter as banter between Elly and Jeff and the other guests picks up slightly.

A humming fan, footsteps on the carpet, soft laughter, clattering keyboard keys, a tapping pen, the squeak of a bar stool, piano music, the swoosh of the automatic front door, a door being shut as someone departs…

Grand Cafe Mornings

Shoe-Watching Vantage Point

He sits by the window, the only person wearing a t-shirt amidst suit jackets, colorful ties, and stylish vacationers.  Looking around, he says “I like the way it feels in here. It’s nice, but casual.” He glances up, gesturing to the red, brown & cream striped awning where the window arches, “this feels like the breakfast places in New York,” studies the menu for a moment, “and the food is really reasonably priced.”  When his fresh vegetable omelet arrives, he exclaims over how greatly stuffed it is, full of tomatoes, onions, bell peppers and mushrooms.  With the toast slices and hashbrowns piled onto the plate, it indeed looks like an impressive amount of food.  Of course, though he tries hard, he can’t finish it all.

This is exactly what the Pfister is going for here in the café.  The idea that having breakfast in a hotel is tough on the pocketbook is a common line of thought, but it’s proven to be an an unnecessary concern here.  That massive veggie omelet that my friend couldn’t finish?  A whopping $8.75 – add in the fact that the food is made fresh by some incredibly talented chefs, and that Bananas Foster French Toast ($10.00) is suddenly a foodie’s dream: a delectable, hunger-sating, melt-in-your-mouth bargain.

The café was one of Julie’s favorite things in her months as Pfister Narrator, with the oatmeal and fixins right at the top of her list, but I had yet to really take in the weekday morning scene here.  My excuse has simply been that I am not a morning person.  Recent rainy, cold weather only dampened any desire I may have mustered to leave behind a warm bed early enough to make good use of the breakfast hour.  The newly arrived June sun is encouraging and invigorating, meaning – no more excuses! –  coming for breakfast.

Tables hold little glass vases showcasing yellow carnations with orange splashes near their centers, reminding everyone that better weather is here.  The shoes reflect this feeling, too, with Tevas, flip-flops, leather slingbacks, mahogany wedge heels, and euro-slippers adorning les pieds.  Of course, being a place often featuring business meetings, there are plenty of shiny loafers and sharp wingtips traipsing along the wood floor.  The most comfortable shoes are on the feet of the servers in their khaki shirts and striped aprons.  They move with purpose, strides propelling them gracefully forward and through the dining room, managing an efficient quickness that never seems rushed.

Diners reflect the variety of their shoes:

  • A couple on vacation in their most comfortable clothes, reading out loud to each other from the newspaper: she reads him the weather, he reads her headlines, they converse about what they should do after breakfast.  She wears some fabulously comfortable-looking open-backed teal flats with sunflowers and he sports a serious motorhead mustache.
  • A bearded gentleman in sneakers, a baseball cap and stereo headphones ribs the hostess, “Table for one? Right this way,” she says when he nods affirmation.  He  then quips as they walk away, “Unless I look like two today.”
  • One regular in a polo shirt and Skechers enjoys his coffee and complimentary paper, while bantering with a server animatedly about sports: does the Miami Heat stand a chance against the Mavericks in the NBA Finals?  What about Shaq’s retirement?
  • A woman reclines in one of the cranberry easy chairs, ankles elegantly crossed, showing off lacy flats.  Her coffee and pain au chocolat on the marble table at her side, holding her smart phone aloft, her face features a big smile and occasional chuckle as she streams a popular viral video featuring two cats arguing over how to properly play patty-cake.
Elegant Luminaries

Joshua Wolter (feet clad in Italian leather, no doubt) stops in to catch up with regulars and get a sense of the expected lunch rush due to Downtown Dining Week. The conversation turns (naturally) to the shoes on parade today, leading to a laugh over a hidden 80’s movie reference* in Joshua’s recent featured appearance in a video showing off the luxurious WELL Spa + Salon pedicure.

There’s an ebb in the tide of customers, countered by an increase in bussing: one employee impressively balances a tray with a mountain of glassware, topped by a snowy napkin peak begging for an avalanche–but nobody can manage a tray like Marisha.

It’s time to enjoy the peace before the next rush: the varying sounds of steps crossing the floor have subsided, chattering comes to a lull, the classical music can be heard once again, and employees share a brief chat and quiet laugh with one another before their attention returns, devotedly, to the diners streaming in for lunch.

Pool With a View

pool view
Pool Reflecting City Lights

“It’s a marvelous night for a moondance,” croons Marcell Guyton, guest musician at the Blu.  This sweet Van Morrison melody happens to be one of my favorites.  Despite the fact that the moon isn’t out tonight, it is, indeed a marvelous night.  The sky is clear, the lights of Milwaukee sparkle like stars and the view from here is entrancing: the Wisconsin Gas Building with its flame lit up blue to indicate temperature change stands adjacent to the U.S. Bank’s white tower; then the Hoan Bridge with the up-and-coming neighborhood of Bay View beyond it;  and the pointy brick edges of the Milwaukee Center on the outer edge.  But we’re not in Blu, though we are on the 23rd floor, and there is plenty of “Blue” around us.  We’re in the Pfister’s pool.   Enjoying the music without having to get out of the water is a treat as the tunes come through the door by the wicker shelving stacked with rolls of fluffy white towels.  We watch numerous people try the handle of the door to the pool room to see these sights, but are visibly disappointed when they find it locked–accessible only by guest key card.  Tonight, this pool with a view is just for us.

After enjoying a leisurely swim, we gather our things and wait for the elevator.  Standing next to us is a gentleman in a business suit, his tie loosened at the neck.  He waves to a friend who is returning to the musical cocktail hour that is Blu on a Thursday night, while eying up the direction from which we just came.  He seems puzzled.  The elevator doors slide open, revealing a handsome couple who does a swift double-take when they see my friend and I, clearly having just left some wet area and not at all dressed for martinis (not that one couldn’t have martinis while wearing a swimsuit and cover-up).  It is always a funny thing to have people in their stylish best sharing space with people who are not at all dressed for a proper social occasion.

Of course, this is part of the quirky charm of staying in a historic hotel.  They weren’t originally designed for the needs of the modern world, where fitness areas are neatly stashed away out of sight of the clientele relaxing at the lobby bar.  Instead, rooms go where space allows, leaving a guest fresh off the treadmill to weave through Gucci suitcases being pushed on luggage carts while fashionably coiffed guests check in at the front desk.

This is a wonderful equalizer.  The self-conscious ego must be checked at the front desk, as well, if one wants to enjoy something as spectacular as a 23rd floor pool with a view of the city skyline and Lake Michigan.  And, boy do I recommend checking in!

Safe and Sound

I can’t see Beth and she can’t see me.  Even if we weren’t talking on the phone, she still wouldn’t be able to see me.  Blind since 1985 when she was only 26 years old, Beth Finke is a mother, NPR commentator, and author of two books (Hanni & Beth: Safe & Sound and Long Time, No See) who plays the piano, moderates a blog, has modeled nude for art classes, learned to sail and two years ago got to drive a Mustang at speeds of 80pmh.  This is a woman who just won’t quit!  And, rightly so, shouldn’t.

Beth talks a mile a minute, with vivacious enthusiasm.  She spritely tells me about the reason for her 3-day visit: several speaking engagements, including an entire day at a school just outside Milwaukee. Beth and her seeing eye dog, Harper, travel to schools to visit with kids and talk about what it’s like being blind.  Today she started her day speaking to classes of Kindergarten and First-Graders.

Imagining Beth's Dream Sight

“I’ll ask for questions and the youngest kids will raise their hands and say ‘my Uncle Jack has a brown dog and it got away once and we had to go look for him and-‘ until the teacher will step in and inquire ‘is that a question or a story?’  The older kids will offer up more thoughtful questions, like the 5th grader who once asked me ‘If you could see for one day, what would you do?’ I took my time, and said, ‘This is a hard question for me because of the way I get along, the things I do and that I’m not so sad about being blind.’  Or, there was the student today who asked, ‘Do you forget you’re blind and suddenly can see?’  ‘Yes,’ I answered, ‘when I dream, I can see.’ ”

This positivity exudes from every musical pitch-change and toned inflection in Beth’s voice throughout our conversation, and it’s clear that she is the perfect spokesperson for kids.  She first began doing these speaking engagements while in Wisconsin to visit her son, Gus, who lives in a group home.  Gus, 25, is severely disabled (like Downs Syndrome, but more rare and severe) and needs full-time assistance.  Coming up from Chicago, Beth spends time with kids to show them how disabled people are just like everyone else, but who sometimes need different tricks to do things most of us take for granted.  Her seeing eye dog is a critical tool for building these bridges.

So, what does this have to do with the Pfister?  For the last four years, Beth has stayed here when on speaking engagements in the Milwaukee area.  And, boy, does she love it here!  She was first referred to the Pfister by a friend in Chicago, an art collector from Ohio who has lived in NYC and L.A.  He regularly takes the train up from Chicago, knows all the bartenders in Blu, and shops at Roger Stevens.  Ever since taking him up on his recommendation, she’s been staying here, and knows nearly all the employees’ names by heart: “Jennifer behind the desk, Harold the doorman, Jeffrey and Randall, Roc, Alicia” she laughs “I could keep going!”

“When I arrive, it’s like I’m a celebrity!  All the doormen are great, one of them loved dogs and would get so excited to take Hanni [Beth’s previous seeing eye dog] out to potty.  The front desk clips off a corner of my key card so I know which end to insert.  Someone always walks me through where the phone is, sets the radio station to public radio, and makes sure the alarm clock is turned off.  They help me set up the toiletries and even save me rubber bands which I use on the different bottles so I know what’s what.  They’re always so accommodating.

“I love the piano players.  Last night I went downstairs and had a Lakefront IPA – it’s nice to have local beer on tap – while I listened to Dr. Hollander, who was taking requests.  I also love Perry.  And, I book my train home after 1pm so I can catch them playing for the lunch hour.  They’re just wonderful.”

Beth’s love of the Pfister has even connected her to others in her own neighborhood.  Her favorite bartender at a restaurant in Printer’s Row has told her, Beth quotes him, pausing between each word for extra emphasis, “The Pfister has the. best. bar. ever.  No TV, the piano, with locals and guests? If I could work at a place like that, it’d be great.”

As we finish up our chat, and I apologize for not being able to meet in person as originally planned, I realize, and point out to Beth, that this conversation being via phone really made us equals: neither of us could see the other.  She loves this.  Of course, I don’t doubt that we would have enjoyed talking just as much in person, but it certainly made for interesting perspective worthy of further introspection.  It’s also pleasing to know that Beth Finke finds the Pfister to be a place where she and her seeing eye dog, at the end of a busy day talking to schoolkids, can feel “safe and sound.”

Rick Week

A Rose for Rick

A blond, a brunette, and a redhead sit at the bar.  But this isn’t a joke.  They’re lifelong Rick Springfield fans, in town for his shows at the Northern Lights Theater.

“It’s not just a show,” says Jeanne, the most outgoing of the trio, “It’s also the time when we get to see all our friends.”  The other two ladies enthusiastically nod.   It turns out the music is what introduced them – Jeanne and Angie met in 2001; Debbie in 2004 – as they would try to catch every concert within an eight-hour driving radius of Chicago and always ran into the same people.  Real friendships blossomed as a result and they remain in contact all year long, keeping tabs on work and family.  Since Milwaukee is the only city to host a multiple-night series, they make a point to come here for an annual vacation together.  The three ladies cheer, raising their glasses, “It’s Rick Week!”

As they talk about the different energy brought to each night of the series (including all-acoustic and fan-request), and why they enjoy the music so much, Angie’s face lights up brightly, “It’s about feeling 11-years-old again, and giggling with your girlfriends.  But it’s also like being with family.”

At the mention of “family” Debbie nods, “my seventeen-year-old daughter is a fan, too.  We took her to a concert when she was five and he passed the mic up to her while she sat on my shoulders. She tried to sing along, but didn’t know the words, and still she had a huge smile on her face the whole time.”

While the devotion is evident in their enthusiastic showing of tattoos (last year, when Jeanne got a new tattoo at Body Ritual, honoring her best friend and their shared love of Rick’s music, she learned a lot of fans go there for new work while in town), or chirping about their favorite songs (“Inside Sylvia,” “My Depression” and “Still Crazy for You”), they are just as perky when talking about Milwaukee as their “Rick Week” destination.   They’ve gone to baseball games, visited museums, or picnicked at the lakefront when the weather’s nice.

They’re also sure to always stay on the historic side of the Pfister Hotel (“it’s got all the character!), and have even become friends with the employees, like Jeffrey, their favorite bartender.  He plays trivia with the ladies,  throwing out questions, “What’s his dog’s name?” and they rib him like old friends, “That’s an easy one – at least make it challenging!”  One year, when Jeanne brought her family to Milwaukee for a weekend, he shouted across the bar to her when she walked by, “You know Rick Springfield’s not in town, right?!”  Jeffrey laughs when she shares this story and says “These ladies are really nice and so it’s easy to remember them.”

The best part is that they aren’t the only ones to have this experience. In a new fan-focused documentary, An Affair of the Heart, one woman states “This isn’t all about Rick Springfield any more.  It’s about the friends.”  And to see the truth of this in action, all one needs to do is stop in to the Pfister Hotel during the one week in May that is “Rick Week.”

Business Casual

Two men casually sit in the lobby lounge, amidst a loud, chattering crowd of entrepreneurial salesmen and women converging for an annual gala.  They sit in facing chairs with an immense, dark walnut coffee table between them, each mirroring the other’s physicality and body position.  Perhaps it’s their khaki pants and button-up shirts with collars undone that signal business casual.  Perhaps it’s their quiet engagement with one another as they confer over a clipboard.  Whatever it is, they are an unassuming presence, two apart from the rest of the people in the room.  While everyone else talks with loud importance about numbers or how to grow a customer base, these guys have the easy laughter and rapport that comes from a lengthy working relationship that involves a lot of traveling together – waking up early, sharing cabs and cramped waiting areas at airports.

One of the few seats free happens to be located as part of the array of chairs in their vicinity, so I approach: “Is this taken?”

The slightly graying, broadly-smiling man opposite me replies, “No, not at all.”

“Do you mind if I sit here?”

He gestures, and the taller, dark-haired and bespectacled man nearer me nods an affirmation, “Please…”

Within moments, the gentleman across, who as it turns out has the remarkable low growl of a young (much more articulate) Sylvester Stallone, leans over and gestures at my scarf, while firing off questions in quick domino-falling succession: “What a lovely scarf! How is that tied? What is that? A name tag? What does it say?”

It’s almost effortless as we slide into conversation about what brings them to Milwaukee.  Working for an international company, they come to Wisconsin a couple times a year to visit with one of their clients, based in the area, and one of their favorites. A favorite client because they are straightforward and honest, yet undeniably warm – almost certainly a result of the company’s roots in the Midwest, as the stereotypes about people here being honest and hardworking, has borne out time and again over the decade and a half they’ve done business together.

Our conversation meanders to discussing the importance of wearing ties to an initial business meeting, then over to what great things they should do in Milwaukee the next time they visit (take in a show at the Pabst/Riverside, see the Calatrava, etc.), and on to a recent six-course dinner they had at an Italian restaurant in NYC where four of the courses were pasta.  They talk easily about their families (one son recently graduated college) and generally represent a perspective that, in the rush of the modern world, feels lost: one that is relational and not focused on the increasingly impersonal nature of business.  It’s refreshing, and particularly so when taking into account that they don’t work for a small enterprise.

The crowd dissipates, the air empties of marketing strategies and is replaced by classical music, and these two travelers depart for dinner.  Promises are made to keep in touch.

So, the next time you see people sitting together, attired in business clothing and casually chatting, consider that they might not be talking profits, but rather sharing a story of the last good meal they had in another city, or perhaps something even more personal—a child’s accomplishments—that may be a sign of a deepening business relationship, or the dawning of a new friendship.  And, just maybe, you might consider walking up to them and asking if the nearby seat is free.

May I Suggest…

Coffee and a Market Fresh Fruit Tart

The art of the recommendation. It’s a skill born of the preternatural ability to read people and an intimate knowledge of available options. It’s why you go to your local bookstore or record store: the clerks who enthusiastically love what they stock and sell are guaranteed to connect you to what you want – even if you didn’t know what it was you wanted when you walked in the door.

The woman who walked over to the pastry case at the Cafe at the Pfister didn’t know what she wanted.  Tailed, on the other side of the counter, by a smiling barista in a striped shirt and carrying a plate, she stared hungrily at all the options.  He waited patiently, while the other baristas busied around him, plucking treats and making cappucinos.  Finally, she spoke, to nobody in particular but in the general direction of her personal gentleman barista – “should I have the lemon tart  or a chocolate cupcake?”  Without missing a beat, another barista chimed in with cheery gusto, “Oh, the lemon tart!  These are amazing – and they’re made by our own in-house pastry chefs.”  The customer didn’t bat a lash or take a breath before replying, “Lemon tart, it is!”

It’s easy to see why the barista so eagerly suggested one of these exquisite desserts.  They are prepared by finely trained chefs with not only an eye for how beautiful these pastries should be, but have the mathematical eating of them down to precise perfection.  The Market Fresh Fruit tart has just the exact number of fruit slices necessary in order for each graham cracker-packed, creamy custard-filled bite to include one piece – no more, no less.  The magic of its lustrous sheen is in the apricot glaze brushed over the top.  Hostess Sandy confirmed that while the colorful treat was, indeed, heavenly, the lemon one was also her personal favorite – “Not too sweet, just the right amount of tartness.”  (no pun intended)

At the next table over sits a gentleman with his laptop, plugged in, cell phone in hand.  Whatever he’s trying to do isn’t working and he decides to call the workday quits.  He asks for directions to the fitness club (downstairs, not by the pool on the 23rd floor as I initially thought, though I encouraged a visit to the pool if only for the view of the city and the lake) and then for a recommendation on where to eat dinner.  This is a tough one.  There’s a lot of good eating in Milwaukee – some incredible eateries have arisen or gained a stellar reputation in recent years.  “What kind of food do you like?” I ask.  He waves a hand dismissively, “whatever, doesn’t matter,” but in a way that gives me the impression he just wants to have a good time.  I go with my first instinct and suggest the Safe House, explaining that it’s really about the experience, not the food.  For those of you who are unfamiliar, it’s a spy-themed restaurant that can be tricky to find and get into, but well worth the effort.

Meanwhile, at the Lobby Lounge bar, the very outgoing Randy is making friends with all the guests, including one man (Peter) who sits with his pink tie tucked neatly into the lower portion of his shirt, one button undone in order to hide away the silky fabric so as not to spill anything on it (brilliant!).  They are discussing beer.  Particularly, the joys of being a selective beer drinker.  They are lobbing around terms like “black IPA” and gushing over Belgian trippels.  Randy offers up the recommendation of visiting Sugar Maple in Bay View as they have 60+ American craft beers on tap – on tap! – as well as Cafe Centraal where Dutch “biers” are carefully selected to include “rarities, oddities” and exclusive options.

Peter is visibly excited and intrigued, writes this down, then proceeds to share the details of a recent trip to Europe that included a visit to the last operational family brewery in Bruges, De Halve Maan, a stop in Strasbourg for Cantillon Lambic, and was capped with the Zythos Bier Festival in Belgium.  It was practically a pilgrimage.  Of course, he’s now looking forward to returning to Milwaukee, staying at the Pfister again, and checking out Randy’s recommendations.

Personally, I’m looking forward to a lemon tart, based on all the barista encouragement; tracking down a pint of Brugse Zot from De Halve Maan, based on Peter’s glowing reviews from his travels; and finding out what else the Pfister employees (and guests!) have to suggest, as they continue to prove this is an art they practice well.

YOUR TURN:  Do you have any suggestions or recommendations to share?